Apple and Microsoft seem to be on the same trajectory when it comes to adding active pen support to their newest hybrid PCs. But Apple has eked out a win this time with the new iPad Pro.
As you may recall, the new Surface Pro (2017) is the first Microsoft device to feature hardware-accelerated Windows Ink capabilities, thanks to its new Pixelsense Accelerator chip. When used in tandem with the new Surface Pen (2017), it offers what Microsoft described as the best-possible performance.
The new Surface Pen is the “fastest pen in the world,” Microsoft’s Stevie Bathiche told The Verge at the time. “It is twice as responsive as the Apple Pencil.”
According to that publication, the new Surface Pen provides 21 ms of latency. But, as Apple pointed out yesterday, the Apple Pencil, when used with the new iPad Pro, achieves just 20 ms of latency. It is, in other words, “faster” (or, more natural, I guess) than the new Surface Pen. Barely.
It is absolutely not coincidental that Apple was able to achieve this performance using specialized hardware in the tablet/PC rather than just with the Pencil itself. The best possible performance requires innovations in both. (And the Apple Pencil works with older iPad Pros, just as the new Surface Pen works with older Surface devices too.)
The issue here is that the Apple Pencil was already better than Microsoft’s previous-generation Surface Pen. So when Microsoft revved the Pen, and the Surface Pro, beating Apple was obviously the goal. Which they achieved, sort of. Since the new Surface Pen isn’t even available yet, it was technically never in first place. Apple will ship the new iPad Pro before Microsoft ships the new Surface Pro, and well before it ships the new Surface Pen.